Boos, cheers in Tacloban as 3 sides face off in Yolanda hearing
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – The National Housing Authority (NHA) official meant to impress. But the audience – victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) – laughed at him, their diplomatic way of protesting his claims.
“Almost 90% na po [ng housing need] ang na-award and ongoing na po ang construction for Tacloban City (Almost 90% of Tacloban's housing need have been awarded and are ongoing construction),” NHA Assistant General Manager Froilan Kampitan declared at a public hearing on the status of the construction of permanent shelters for typhoon victims on Thursday, November 27.
The victims' reaction unsettled Kampitan, who turned from the lawmakers he was briefing to directly address the people gathered at the hearing. He then clarified his statement.
The 90% refers to the successful bidding for the construction of Tacloban's total 14,433 housing need. Kampitan said they have completed 574 houses while more than 2,000 are still being built.
“Ngunit desire po natin that by the end of the year, 3,000 po ang makukumpleto. Doon sa mga budget na na-download, matatapos po lahat ito nang 2015. Doon po ‘yung sa Tacloban City. More than 90% ang ongoing awarded projects,” he added.
(Our desire is to complete 3,000 by the end of the year. Based on the budget we already received [P13 billion], we will finish them all by 2015. This is Tacloban City. More than 90% is already ongoing, awarded projects.)
Tacloban City was the worst hit by Yolanda’s tsunami-like storm surges that flattened many parts of the city and killed nearly 6,000.
The government maintains it “normally” takes 5 to 10 years to achieve full recovery given the magnitude of the devastation. President Benigno Aquino III approved the P367-billion rehabilitation master plan only in October or nearly a year after the typhoon. (READ: Malacañang's Yolanda aid dilemma: Speed or procedure?)
“Normally, for big disasters, and Yolanda is the biggest disaster that has hit the world, it will take normally 5 to 10 years for a full recovery and rehabilitation process. The practical solution is not to wait the survivors to wait for 3, 5 or 10 years. We need to have an interim or transitional housing mechanism,” said Office of the Presidential Affairs for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) Undersecretary Leslie Cordero.
3 sides to the story
The joint hearing of the Senate and House of Representatives committees on urban planning, housing and resettlement at the University of the Philippines campus in Tacloban City is said to be the biggest public gathering of typhoon victims’ groups and key government officials on top of rehabilitation efforts. It focused on the construction of permanent shelters as opposed to temporary and transitional houses.
“We should have done this earlier,” quipped Leyte Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
The hearing showed that anger towards slow government response has not died down a year since the typhoon.
The NHA and other government housing agencies explained the delay and the challenges they faced in asking for the assistance of local government units. Between the victims and the central government is Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who's in a word war with Manila officials over the rehabilitation efforts. President Benigno Aquino III skipped the city during the first year commemoration events of Yolanda.
"We don’t want to complain. We are just voicing what our people feel at ano ang ipinapaabot ng tao para maintinidhan ano nangyayari on the ground," Romualdez said.
An outsider, Senate committee chairman Senator JV Ejercito tried to play referee during the hearing. He highlighted the need to speed up construction but at the same time recognized the challenges posed by the magnitude of the problem.
“Ninety percent ay bidded out na kaya makakaasa tayo na sa darating na 2015, may mga housing projects na tayong makikita na. Ito ay sa loob ng 3 taon. Ito ay hindi naman pika-pika given the magnitude and the damage,” said Ejercito.
Delays and bottlenecks
While the typhoon victims were able to reiterate issues against the delay and the alleged discrimination against aid beneficiaries, the public hearing provided government officials to explain the bottlenecks.
People Surge, an organization of typhoon victims, noted how private construction projects are faster. "Wala tayong nakikita pang significant na ginagawa ng pamahalaan. parang hinahayaan muna private sector. Mayroon tayong nakikitang irregularties," said the group's spokesperson Efleda Bautista. "Wala tayong nakikita pang significant na ginagawa ng pamahalaan. parang hinahayaan muna private sector. Mayroon tayong nakikitang irregularties," she added.
But the NHA said it took them up to 6 months to finish the first task of identifying the lots.
Kampitan identified several reasons including the failure of local government units to immediately identify the lots. “Pumunta po kami sa mga munisipyo the first few months. Ang sagot sa amin ng most mayors, ‘Teka muna, may dala ba kayong gamot at pagkain?’ Hindi ho, permanent shelter kami. ‘Wala pa nga yong shelter kit at emergency housing nandito kayo.’ After the 3rd or 4th month na medyo stabilized na ang condition ng local government, that’s when the LGU began identifying the sites,” Kampitan said.
Tests and surveys had to be done to check if the locations are suitable for housing. It was only in July that the NHA started inviting the private sector. He said they had to prioritize government lots to save money.
Kampitan’s frustration was visible. “With local government ho, close po kami. Close ho kami ni Mayor. Ewan ko ho kung si Mayor close sa akin,” he said in jest. The audience laughed.
Tacloban received P566 million
Mayor Romualdez clarified there are funds coming from the central government. A total of P566 million has been received so far to include repair of city infrastructures, livelihood programs and cash for work. It also includes the new release of P315 million for Emergency Shelter Assistance for partially damaged houses, but which is apparently being protested because of limitations set by the government.
The amount of P10,000 or P30,000 may be availed of by the victims. But those who are receiving P15,000 monthly salaries are not qualified. Mayor Romualdez said they have to go back to the field to verify who are qualified to avail of the funding.
The city doesn't receive money for the permanent houses because this is the task of the housing agencies. “Mahirap sa amin araw araw nandito kami. Nakikita na may proyektong binabanggit na bilyon-bilyon. Pero bakit may tao pa sa tent? Papadalhan kami ng pera pero hindi naman masabi sa tao na may specific purpose yan. Hindi namin magamit,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said there’s good coordination among government agencies. The real problem is the delay, and the city cannot offer anything because it has no income since it deferred taxes for 6 months after the typhoon.
Let victims rebuild homes, give cash
When House committee on urban planning chairman Representative Albee Benitez suggested that government let the victims build their own houses, the audience broke into a hearty applause. It’s what the residents have always been asking for.
"Bakit hindi natin sila i-harness ang victims themselves. Kung titignan mo 'yung bahay naman nila sila nagtayo dati. Kapag binigyan natin ng tulong yan at in-assist ng national government, sila mismo ang magpapaganda ng bahay nila," Benitez said.
Cordero said the OPARR is already working on the possibility of doing this. "If you would be able to help us in approving a supplemental budget, we would download it to the National Housing Authority. In our several meetings with the resettlement cluster, they have already agreed that we will venture into alternative construction of houses. We are looking at a community-driven approach," she said.
Concerns were raised about a possible violation of the rules of the Commission on Audit. But Cordero said the Department of Social Welfare and Development is already doing this for small infrastructure projects.
"There is already a template. All we need is that policy and right now. The resettlement cluseter is very open to do a community driven approach," she said.
Cordero said it’s possible to tweak the government master plan in terms of implementation to allow more community driven rehabilitation. She asked Congress to pass the P23 billion supplemental budget, from which P9.5 billion will go to Yolanda efforts, to be able to do this.
Ejercito promised another hearing to check the status of construction projects. He said he will also propose the creation of an oversight committee in the Senate to check the status of rehabilitation work. – Rappler.com